Practising the Presence at the Table | Isaac Aho

Over the past two years Isaac has been one of my favourite people to eat, drink, think and pray alongside. His family have intentionally developed their meal table as a space to recognise the worth of Jesus, one another and the many guests they have. I asked him to write a little on what he is learning about spiritual formation and the deep connection to meal times. – Liam


I was recently listening to an audio recording of John Ortburg and Dallas Willard at a “Knowing Christ Today” conference in Santa Barbara, California. This recording is, in my opinion, one of the best teachings on discipleship I have ever heard in one compilation. Willard is a man who has given his life to the study and application of spiritual formation. Toward the end of the conference, Ortburg asks Willard a question. I can hear a certain desperation in his voice as he is a pastor and author who has also devoted his life to the idea that real discipleship can and should be happening in the church. We should look different as kingdom people.

Ortburg asks Dallas, and I paraphrase slightly, “How do we do this in a way that actually works? There are people in this room from common areas. We have all have had the experience where in a city there may be an interfaith council or gathering of pastors for prayer. This is a good idea but doesn’t have the kind of life to it that we need. It can become one more obligation to schedules that are full, rather than a life-bringing thing.” The answer Dallas gives is:

“We arrange our time together where we are actually sharing what is going on in our souls and we don’t just spend our time talking about community affairs, ecumenical efforts or comparisons between churches. You have to arrange your time where people are exchanging ‘soul work’, what is going on in them, and they are sharing their experience of the presence of Christ in their lives”

I have recently been working on a thesis project where I am exploring a deeper understanding of the Eucharist and how Jesus used meal-time as a place of discipleship. I have been learning how the “communion meal” was an actual full meal called an “agape” or “love feast” with the Eucharist bread being broken and shared before the meal, and the cup of wine passed around and shared at the end of the meal. I have a friend who often says, “When your newest tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” So with that as a disclaimer, I will go on to say: If I had been at the conference, I don’t know how I would have kept myself from speaking up. In the full seven-hour conference on Christian formation, the communion meal, or Eucharist, was not mentioned once as a means of spiritual formation. A teaching on discipleship by some of our best teachers that doesn’t mention the table as a place of discipleship should indicate just how much we have lost the practice and importance of this sacrament.

Jesus left us with a certain kind of a meal as the center of our times when we come together. This meal was to be marked by the participants awareness that He was present at the table. It was an actual meal at an actual table that would culminate in an act everybody would participate in. Bread broken and eaten, a glass of wine shared. It was not what was said that was important but what was done.

In the early church, any person could sit through a church teaching, but when it came time to break bread, all non-believers would be asked to leave. It was not listening to Christ’s teaching that marked you as a Christian, it was participating in a communion meal which set you apart as a believer and earned you the death penalty if caught. Many were martyred in the persecuted church for confessing to eating the Eucharist meal. To participate under the threat of death shows just how serious they took this.

Jesus often chose the table as a place of discipleship. A full five chapters of teaching (John 13-17) was most likely done at the last supper where he gave us the Eucharist act. I like to think his prayer, “…they would be one as we are one…” (John 17), was offered with the bread and wine. He would often stop in the middle of a meal for a surprising illustrated lesson such as his impromptu foot washing in Johns last supper account, maybe in response to an argument they just had about who would be greatest. (Luke 22)

For at least the first 100 years, the church would practice Eucharist during an actual meal called a “love feast” or “agape meal”. Slowly, toward the end of the first century, the love feast and Eucharist, the taking of bread and wine, became separate acts, although both continued to be practiced. This could have been a result of persecution, as the Eucharist act was easier to perform without notice in comparison to a full meal. Slowly, over the last two centuries, the church has largely lost the practice of “agape” meals. I believe the modern church, in losing the “Agape”, has also lost the full understanding of the Eucharist and the importance of an awareness Holy Spirit and the person with us, Is there any wonder so many are sick and dying among us? Paul’s question to the church of Corinth really hits home today

When I sit at any table with an awareness of Christ as the host, I will naturally become more aware of others. The “soul conversations” that Dallas speaks of are a natural outflow of this kind of gathering. Like any spiritual discipline, the Eucharist act is not an end in itself but will bring about actual transformation in my awareness of my own self, others and Christ being present.

What could happen if I take the teaching of Jesus seriously and began to practice the kind of meal he desired: Christ present, the lame, sick and poor present (at least sometimes), diverse, hospitable, generous, joyful, an unhurried time of sharing food and my life with others? The next meal you sit at, consciously make Jesus the host. Wait until everybody is seated before starting to eat. Have a meaningful conversation with everybody present. Ask open ended questions and really listen to the others. Slowing our eating and tasting each bite with thankfulness can change any mealtime.

The simplicity of these acts lull us into thinking they are unnecessary, but I am challenging myself to participate more often at this kind of table.

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Links for Friday | 21st May 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too,


  • In recent months, I’ve been pushed back to realy re-examine how we use the word ‘Gospel’ and what it means to share the gospel. Here Scot McKnight alludes to a couple of ways in which we might be sharing a narrower gospel than the biblical text proclaims;

  • An old prof of mine who I am forever indebted to for discovering the beautiful intersections of theology, mental health care and chaplaincy, John Swinton writes about his nominating of Jean vanier founder of L’arche communities

  • Krish kandiahresponds convincingly to theologian Wayne grudem’s defense of Christian gun ownership. Although, I’m increasingly convinced as I have these conversations that there is a cultural impasse between our cultures (US and UK) despite our common(ish) language.

  • Over the last couple of years the importance of understanding God as triune has sky-rocketted. This strange (and, by name not explicitly referenced) doctrine is often relegated to the complicated and mysterious (and therefore expendible) in most daily Christian practice. I thought Greg Boyd wrote an excellently clear piece explaining why this matters. Most significantly is that for God to be love, there needs to be more than a single person at play!


I am long disonnected from the regular rhythm of US colleges, but seemingly people are graduating right about now, I thought these 3 tips by Jeff Goins were great!

1)Don’t worry about what to do. Worry about who you are and who you are becoming. Focus on continued growth and learning, and what you’re meant to do will become clear over time.
2) Stop looking for the perfect job and start creating it. The best way to do what you love is to build the perfect job for yourself. Start a small business, if even as a hobby, so you’re never completely on someone else to earn a living.
3) Instead of chasing your dream, serve someone else’s first. This will save you years of pain and accelerate your growth in ways you can’t imagine. And it will humble you.

How do defend against thinking just like the age an culture which surrounds you? Read this quote from CS Lewis biography by Alister McGrath this week (HT: Tides and Turning) which made me want to dig into some old tomes;

Lewis argues that a familiarity with the literature of the past provides readers with a standpoint which gives them critical distance from their own era. Thus, it allows them to see ‘the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.’ The reading of old books enables us to avoid becoming passive captives of the Spirit of the Age by keeping ‘the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds’ (Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis – A Life, p. 187).


  • I’ve been looking at a couple of desk ideas recently, and have been playing with the idea of a ‘standing desk’ which has become popular over the last decade or so. I’m just not so sure I’d want to stand all the time.

  • This could be a pretty neat and elegant solution! HT: Tools and Toys

  • Tools and Toys also published a great review of apple’s new macbook. From this review it seems like a great buy for 90% of non-power mac users.

  • I use a calendar app pretty regularly, not because Im esepcially timetabled, but for some sense of knowing where my time is going and has gone. I even put events in my calendar after they have passed so I can remember what I did. I’ve been using Fantastical for both mac and iOs and really enjoyed its funcationality. Especially its natural language parsing1

  • Finally, and again, from Tools and Toys (Yes, I do read other blogs), some great suggestions for music to work alongside.

I agree that mostly instrumental works best for me, I get to share a spotify account and enjoy these tunes recently as I work;

  1. “Instead of laboring your way through several fields to add an entry, you can type something like “Ritchie conference call at 3pm on Tuesday,” and it’ll fill in all the fields, including a default duration of one hour and a recognition that by “Tuesday” you must mean “next Tuesday.” – Lean Crew

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“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass away; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Those who have God find they lack nothing; God alone suffices.” Teresa of Avila (1515-82)

Teresa of Avila (1515-82)


Journeying through ‘With’ by Skye Jethani | Part 2

I’m working through an overview of ‘With” (US | UK | Anywhere else by Skye Jethani, read the previous posts here (Part 1)

The next few chapters in the book relate to deepening the understanding of the postures towards God that Skye introduces in the 1st.

The first posture is;

Life under God

Life under God is a posture that comes close to fatalism, the idea that what will be, will be, apart from that our adherence to God’s will induces his blessing, and conversely, our lack of blessedness is because of our displeasing God.

Skye explains how this view emerges from people attempting to explain the causes for evil or lack of fortune. It can be presented as some form of *primitive” view of God, such as ancient cultures explaining why crops fail, but Skye explains how in a modern society we still can hold the understanding that our business is failling, our children are sick, our country is collapsing all because of our lack of adherence to God’s rules.
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“Oh Death where is your sting”, Oh, there it is!

Just over a week ago a close friend of ours died far too suddenly. We cried out in prayer, and were sure God joined us in our desire for his life to be prolonged, but yet, he died.

Honestly victorious phrases like “Death where is your sting, grave where is your victory”1 seem like callous belittling of the very real pain experienced in the loss of life. Is my reaction to those phrases a worrying litmus test for the extent of my ‘eternal perspective’? I’ve wondered.
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Links for Friday | 15th May 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too,


In the next week I’ll hopefully post my full review of the Tom Bihn Bag I wrote about a few weeks back, but for now feel free to check out some pictures of our current trip to India here, my photoblog is http://LIAMBYRN.ES.
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Ascension Day 2015

Today the church celebrate the ascension of Christ, I was sent this great sonnet by Malcolm Guite and his great explanation for the significance of the ascension which seems deeply under appreciated within the evaneglical community;
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Journeying through ‘With’ by Skye Jethani | Part 1

I’m re-reading Skye Jethani’s book “With” (US | UK | Anywhere else) over the next few weeks, and I like it so much I thought I’d blog through some thoughts as I do. Not quite as in depth as a review, but more a place to repeat and carry forward some ideas that it peaks for me.

In Chapter 1, Skye contends that the disillusionment that is often experienced by those seeking to follow Jesus is not due to a lack of sincerity or not trying hard enough, but that our posture towards God foundationally misled.
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“All our life is a festival. Since we are persuaded that God is present everywhere on all sides, we praise God as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we sail the sea, we feel God’s inspiration… Read More

Clement of Alexandria


Links for (Almost) Friday (Again) | 9th May 2015

Every Friday I’m posting links to things I’ve read this week that I think you might find interesting too, in a second week in a row, I missed friday!, but in my defence I was moving through some time zones! –

UK Elections

  • The turns in the recent election in the UK was unprecedented. Especially in Scotland where my vote (in absentia) was cast. It is hard to take a national pulse living so far away, but the rhetoric of UK politics seems less and less inclusive and more tribal, a worry trajectory in my opinion. Giles Fraser, made some emphatic comments in his piece in the Guardian, and I was fascinated by the following quote, as I’ve often considered the secular approach to government as quasi-religious.

The anthropologist Mukulika Banerjee suggests a fascinating answer: elections are like religious rituals, often devoid of rational purpose or efficacy for the individual participant, but full of symbolic meaning. They are the nearest thing the secular has to the sacred, presenting a moment of empowerment.
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